JOHANNESBURG - Who will fill Johan Ackermann’s big shoes as Lions forwards coach? That is the burning question following the departure of Ackermann to Gloucester this week.
The Lions are expected to announce their new forwards coach today - along with the full coaching team - to take charge in the Currie Cup and next year’s Super Rugby competition. The only person guaranteed his position is new head coach Swys de Bruin.
It is understood that former Springbok and Bulls lock Victor Matfield is the preferred candidate of the Lions and could well be unveiled as Ackermann’s successor as forwards coach today.
Matfield is regarded as a master line-out tactician and has coaching experience behind him. He first entered the coaching ranks in 2012 when, after hanging up his boots the first time after the 2011 World Cup, he took charge of the Bulls forwards and the team’s attacking game for the 2013 Super Rugby season.
He was, however, lured back into action by then Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, and featured for the Springboks in 2014 and 2015, playing at the World Cup that year.
It is believed that Matfield and the Lions are still in negotiations around the role the 40-year-old would fill, but for now he’d be involved on a consultancy basis, with the likelihood of his position becoming permanent.
Matfield has always expressed an interest in going into full-time coaching, but with John Mitchell now involved with the Bulls there is unlikely to be a position for him in Pretoria, but certainly in Johannesburg, with Ackermann now in England.
They would be big shoes to fill. Ackermann helped turn the Lions pack into one of the most formidable units in Super Rugby, with Ruan Dreyer, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley becoming Springboks under his watch.
Kwagga Smith, Ruan Ackermann, Andries Ferreira, Jacques van Rooyen, and Robbie Coetzee have also been talked about as potential national players, while Warwick Tecklenburg (now retired) and Akker van der Merwe (now at the Sharks) also received praise over the last few seasons.
Kriel, who has captained the Lions in Whiteley’s absence, has only had good things to say about Ackermann. “He is one of the best coaches I have ever worked with,” said Kriel recently.
And new head coach De Bruin concurs: “In my 32 years of coaching I haven’t come across a forwards coach as good as Ackers. He is phenomenal and just gets the best out of the guys. His motivational skills are unbelievable. and the guys really play for him.”
The other candidates the Lions would have considered for the position of forwards coach include scrum guru Balie Swart and current Stormers forwards boss Russell Winter, a former Lions player and junior coach.
Meanwhile, Lions chief executive Rudolf Straeuli is today expected to provide more details around young loose forward Ruan Ackermann who it has been rumoured will follow his father to Gloucester in England.